Trump administration reverses promise to ban elephant hunt trophies



The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has quietly begun allowing more trophy hunting of African elephants, despite President Donald Trump’s pledge last year to uphold a ban on importing parts of animals killed by big-game hunters.

The agency issued a formal memo Thursday saying it would consider issuing permits to import elephant trophies from African nations on a “case-by-case” basis, effective immediately. The new guidelines, first reported by The Hill, end U.S.  bans on the import of such trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

The decision comes nearly four months after Trump stepped in to halt his own administration’s decision to begin allowing hunters to import elephants killed in the two African countries. The president called such trophy hunting a “horror show.” He drew rare accolades from environmentalists at the time, who said they were surprised that Trump would move to uphold environmental protections.

“What the agency just did with this memo is completely contrary to everything Trump has been saying,” Tanya Sanerib, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in an interview.

Environmental advocates say it’s unclear if the new move will result in additional elephant trophy imports, but the guidelines give more leeway to hunters to apply for permits. The Fish and Wildlife Service has already updated its webpages on the import of sport-hunted trophies for both elephants and lions.

In November, the agency reversed an Obama-era ban on the importation of elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia, determining that sport hunting in those countries would “enhance the survival of the species in the wild,” a spokesperson said at the time.

The decision was first revealed publicly by Safari Club International, a trophy hunting advocacy group with close ties to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The group, along with the National Rifle Association, sued to block the 2014 ban on elephant trophies from Zimbabwe. Late last year, a federal appeals court ruled that the Obama administration did not follow proper procedures when it instituted the ban. Among other things, it failed to invite public comment, the court said.

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KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to the media during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a boat to Georges Island, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is interviewed by Reuters, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (L) high fives National Park Service Ranger Beth Jackendoff on his National Monuments review visiting sites around Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke waits to take the stage with President Donald Trump for his on infrastructure improvements, at the Department of Transportation in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (C) talks to National Park Service Rangers, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Ryan Zinke visits SiriusXM Studios on September 12, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
SHANKSVILLE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Visitors listen to US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the groundbreaking of the Tower Of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial on the 16th Anniversary ceremony of the September 11th terrorist attacks, September 10, 2017 in Shanksville, PA. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field outside Shanksville, PA with 40 passengers and 4 hijackers aboard on September 11, 2001. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on June 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed FY2018 budget request for the Interior Department. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, talks with Lucas St. Clair, right, during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. St. Clair's family gifted the land for the monument. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MILLINOCKET, ME - JUNE 15: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with members of the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce and Millinocket town council during a breakfast at Twin Pines Lodge in Millinocket on Thursday, June 14, 2017. Zinke is in Maine for a review of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, one of over two dozen reviews ordered by President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke listens while US President Donald Trump speaks at the US Department of Transportation June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump visit of the Transportation Department is part of a White House push to overhaul America's infrastructure. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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The Trump administration based its decision allowing case-by-case permits on the court’s opinion, writing in the memo that so-called enhancement findings are “no longer effective for making individual permit determinations for imports of sport-hunted African elephant trophies.”

Some wildlife experts said the memo complicates the administration’s stance on conservation at the expense of animals desperately needing protection. The memo also withdrew findings related to the Endangered Species Act for trophies taken from bontebok, a species of antelope, elephants and lions hunted in several other countries.

“Our biggest concern is there’s been too much back and forth by the U.S. government to the point of really confusing the public,” Jimmiel Mandima, the director of program design at the African Wildlife Foundation, said. “Why does the decision keep flopping, are we hunting or are we not hunting?”

Mandima, who noted that his group has long opposed the hunting of threatened, vulnerable or endangered species, said such confusion makes it difficult for the public to voice opinions about the issue, and harder for environmental groups to craft conservation recommendations.

Several environmentalists on Monday pointed out that the new import guidelines haven’t been made public, and Freedom of Information Act requests to determine what “case-by-case” actually means will likely take months. In that time, an unknown number of applications could be approved.

“We saw the public outcry last fall when [the trophy decision] was announced … not just from people who are traditionally Democrats,” Sanerib said. “The agency is really playing hide the ball. It’s incredibly disappointing.”

It’s unclear if Trump supports the new Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines. Neither the White House nor the Fish and Wildlife Service immediately responded to HuffPost’s requests for comment.

A Fish and Wildlife spokesperson told The Hill that the White House has made its stance clear. “The president has been very clear in the direction that his administration will go,” the agency said in a statement to the outlet. “Unfortunately, since aspects of the import permitting program for trophies are the focus of ongoing litigation, the Department is unable to comment about specific next steps at this time.”

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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